Teaching philosophy and social theory in Area Studies (4 Feb 2004)

Date: 4 February, 2004
Location: Scottish CILT
Event type: Workshop

Programme | Event report

workshop attendees

Past event summary

Given the multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary nature of Area Studies, what are the implications for the teaching of methodologies, social theory, philosophy etc. Is there an Area Studies approach which encompasses the conventions of its constituent disciplines? How does this impact on the teaching and learning in Area Studies?

A whole range of philosophical perspectives and individual theorists are used in a variety of disciplines. However, different disciplines use these in different ways. Therefore, how can these be taught to students on multidisciplinary Area Studies programmes?

Programme for 4 February 2004
10.30 - 11.00 Coffee and registration
11.00 - 11.45 Finding the female voice : theory and practice in the reading of Czech, Polish and Russian Women's Writing
Margaret Tejerizo (Slavonic Studies, University of Glasgow)
11.45 - 12.30 Teaching Social Theory to 'Dumbed Down' Students: A View From a Sociologist at a New University
Joyce Canaan (Sociology, University of Central England)
12.30 - 13.30 Lunch
13.30 - 14.15 Liminality, inside and outside, globalisation and postnationalism: issues for Area Studies
Dick Ellis (Nottingham Trent University)
14.15 - 15.00 Utrecht experience in teaching Area Studies from a geographical perspective
Kees Terlouw, (Geosciences, Utrecht)
15.00 - 15.15 Tea break
15.15 - 16.00 Teaching Rubbish: Intercultural Perspectives on German Environmentalism
Alison Phipps (German, University of Glasgow)
16.00 Close


Event report: Teaching methodology, philosophy and social theory in Area Studies

by John Canning

The day began with a talk from Margaret Tejerizo from the department of Slavonic Studies at the University of Glasgow about her course in Russian, Czech and Polish women’s writing. Dr Tejerizo’s course begins to address Russian literary studies’ past shortcomings in dealing with social, political and gender issues in reading Russian literature as well as introducing students to women writers from a variety of historical periods. Traditionally Russian women writers have received very little attention in the study of Russian literature which has traditionally focused on particular male writers who have been studied with little utilisation of non-literary approaches.

Joyce Canaan in her presentation Teaching Social Theory to ‘Dumbed-down’ students: A View from a Sociologist from a New University placed her teaching of social theory into the context of current and proposed changes in UK Higher Education as well as changes in primary and secondary education. It is important to understand that processes such as the QAA and RAE have affected the identities of teaching staff as well as those of the students. Both staff and students have become accustomed to jumping through different hoops and this has important implication in the teaching of social theory. As participation widens, it becomes more important to understand where students are when they begin their studies in order to encourage them to bring their own theories and understandings of the world into the classroom. Dr Canaan had found that encouraging students to keep journals was a particularly helpful method of engaging with the students and world events such as 11 September 2001 provided catalysts for exciting discussions.

Dick Ellis focused upon Area Studies as an intellectual endeavour. Ideas about globalisation from above (e.g. US multinational corporations) and from below (resistance) along with notions of the denationalisation and deterritorialisation have bought about a shift from the idea of roots to routes in which space is theorised in terms of flows. Theoretical concepts such as borderlands, crossroads and contact zones accommodate different versions of American Studies and permit maintaining the idea of the nation-state. The label Area Studies points to the way in which we do not say ‘national studies’. Area Studies course titles ought be problematical. For example, in the case of European Studies where does Europe begin and end? A core course is necessary to deconstruct the idea of Europe itself.

Kees Terlouw, a geographer from the University of Utrecht presented a non-UK perspective on Area Studies. In Dr Terlouw’s course, students undertake projects on European regions of their choice using multidisciplinary approaches with particular attention to regional responses to the external pressures of globalisation. This multidisciplinary approach to Area Studies has shifted from the idea of the region to the regional and from geography to social science approaches. A version of this paper was published as Terlouw, K., 2004, Area Studies at Utrecht University: A Regional Geographical Approach, Journal of Contemporary European Studies 12 (3), pp. 355-365 http://journalsonline.tandf.co.uk/openurl.asp?genre=issue&issn=1478-2804&volume=12&issue=3> (Institutional subscription required to view online).

Finally, Alison Phipps from the University of Glasgow spoke about her innovative course The Greening of Germany. The course is taken by fourth year students studying German and aims to teach ethnographic methods to students whilst further developing their German language skills. The students are given the task to find Germans in Glasgow and talk to them about what they put in their bins. Through examining rubbish, students learn not only about environmental issues in Germany, but develop understandings about the nature of rubbish and its role in nature-environment relationships. Students who take the course begin to see the world in new ways, becoming both excited and threatened by what they find out.

It is an encouragement to the Subject Centre to be able to bring teaching staff from a variety of humanities and social science disciplines together for an Area Studies event. All the contributors brought a strongly interdisciplinary approach to their teaching and both encouraged and challenged their colleagues to think about their teaching in new ways.